In the early 1990s Cuba was plunged into crisis as a result of the US trade embargo and withdrawal of support following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Food and fuel were in short supply. Millions went hungry. Cars and buses virtually disappeared as fuel supplies dried up. Farmers had to abandon their machines and work the fields manually. The Government issued one million bicycles to keep the population on the move.
Between 1990 and 1995 the average Cuban consumed fewer calories than they expended, leading to an average weight loss of 5kg. They also exercised more.
Deaths from diabetes began to fall in 1996 and dropped to half the levels experienced in the 1980s. Deaths from heart disease and stroke reduced by a third.
By the late 1990s Cuba was beginning to recover. As the economy grew, so did waistlines. Levels of physical activity fell. By the mid-2000s the prevalence of diabetes, heart disease and stroke were back up to pre-crisis levels.
Cuba’s experience serves to demonstrate that within a relatively short period moderate weight loss and an increase in physical activity can have profound health benefits on a whole population.
At a local level if more of us walked or cycled regularly and ate healthily there would be wider benefits too. There’d be less pressure on the NHS and Social Services. Congestion and its associated air and noise pollution would be eased. Employees would take less sick leave and be more productive. School children would be more attentive and do better at school.
That’s why Push Bike! is lobbying the City and particularly the County Council with its Highways and Public Health responsibilities to do more in making it easier to leave the car at home and cycle (or walk) for more of the 65% of car journeys that are under 5 miles. We’d also like to encourage you to use your car less and start to enjoy the many benefits of riding a bike.